Hitler's Baltic strategy, 1944-1945 / by Howard Davis Grier
Includes bibliographical references (p. -641)
By mid-1943 Germany had lost the initiative in the war on land, in the air and at sea. Yet Hitler continued the struggle for nearly two more years, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Germany's armed forces. This study examines Hitler's overall strategy on land and at sea in the final two years of World War II, with particular emphasis upon the Baltic theater. On the northern sector of the Eastern Front, Hitler repeatedly refused to grant Army Group North permission to retreat. In October 1944 the Soviets isolated the entire army group, approximately one-half million men, in the Latvian province of Kurland. There the army group remained until Germany's capitulation in May 1945. As Soviet armies assaulted the Reich, Hitler's refusal to permit Army Group Center's retreat led to the isolation of its troops in several bridgeheads around Baltic ports in Prussia and Pomerania. Hitler had military, diplomatic and economic reasons for stubbornly clinging to the Baltic coast. Control of the Baltic was essential to guarantee imports of Swedish iron ore and Finnish nickel, both vital to Germany's war economy. Hitler also required domination of the Baltic to maintain the sea route to Finland and ensure the Finns' continued participation in the war. Furthermore, German military leaders, especially in the Navy, regarded control of the Baltic as an effective means to ensure Swedish neutrality and to maintain communications with German troops in Norway. Finally, the German Navy considered domination of the eastern Baltic absolutely essential to provide a testing and training area for new types of technologically-advanced submarines, with which Hitler and Admiral Karl Donitz planned to turn the tide in the war at sea. Donitz played a decisive role in shaping German grand strategy in the war's final years. Hitler placed great trust in Donitz militarily and politically, and frequently commanded the German Army to defend coastal sectors that Donitz claimed were vital to the Navy. As a result of Donitz's devotion to Hitler and his repeated promises never to give up the fight, Hitler selected Donitz as his successor.
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